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Do we always solve the ‘right’ problem?

Identifying the real problem behind a business challenge is something that sometimes gets little attention. Behavioral science helps you better understand the problem and answer the right questions before designing behavioral solutions 😉

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"We launched the app a few months ago, but the problem is that people still do not use it to do their operations." - the client tells us. "Could it be that people don't know what they can do with the app? But we provide them with all the information they need! ”.

This situation usually occurs in the first meetings with some clients. They provide us with the necessary context so that we better understand what their challenge is. Sometimes companies think they have a clear understanding of the problem they are facing and just need an effective solution; other times they might have some doubts. But what do they expect from us? What they surely hope is that behavioral science can give them that innovative approach that can solve their problems.

I'm a Behavioral Consultant and I recognize the great contribution of the discipline to the design of innovative solutions; however, it is often common to find the correct answer to the wrong question. In many cases, clients do not inquire about the underlying problem they face but focus only on the one that is most visible (surface problem). Therefore, it is essential to ask yourself: how do you know that this is the 'correct' problem to solve? That is, the one that allows you to achieve your business goal. Although it seems counterintuitive, my role, before offering solutions, is to question this problem that is assumed to be 'correct', investigating in-depth to find other hypotheses. In short, raise (more) doubts! 😨

Okay, don't panic. This is an idea that is developed in the Design Thinking discipline, and Don Norman explains it very clearly in his book: we cannot assume that a problem is the 'correct' one to solve just because the client is presenting us with this problem. You have to go beyond the visible; you have to understand the subconscious part of the brain.

Let's go back to the initial example. Let's say that the customer is a bank that has the problem that people do not use its app to carry out operations (e.g. bank transfers). A solution could focus on designing a communication campaign that aims to show people how to carry out operations through the app. However, this solution could consider the wrong hypotheses.

Maybe we should ask other questions related to the problem; perhaps there are more factors to consider. What if people are used to using other channels to carry out their operations? Well, this campaign would not necessarily be an effective solution. This is where behavioral science makes its contribution. How? Through behavioral models that help to understand the process and the steps that people have to take to finally make a decision or adopt a behavior, and identify the heuristics and cognitive biases that influence this process.

Before designing a solution, it is also essential to know the audience and the target behavior that you want to encourage (or sometimes reduce). In this article, we are going to focus only on the problem 👌

There are many models that help to identify the underlying problem that we should finally solve, but the one that helps me the most on many occasions is the model developed in the 'Practitioner's Guide to Nudging' by Ly et al. (2013) from the University of Toronto.

The model proposes as a first step ‘identifying the (behavioral) bottlenecks’ of the decision process. Bottlenecks are those barriers that prevent the user journey from completing. These barriers cause the original target behavior to be abandoned, modified, or substituted.

In the paper, a decision map is developed with the objective of increasing participation in a pension savings plan:

Decision map with pension savings bottlenecks

Ly et al. (2013)

The decision map helps to analyze the context, identifying the key subconscious factors that can affect the final decision or prevent people from following their intentions until the achievement of the target behavior. For example, in the 'Select investment fund' phase, the identified bottleneck is that people may be exposed to too many options. This potential problem is explained by the fact that people have Bounded Rationality; In other words, we do not make an optimal decision because we do not have complete information or if we do, we do not have the ability to process it due to the information overload or options presented (Choice Overload).

In the case of the client presented at the beginning (people do not use the app to carry out operations), the decision map could be the following:

Decision map with bottlenecks to perform operations with the app

Tip: choose the bottleneck that, if solved, will have the greatest possible impact on improving target behavior. I suggest choosing the first bottleneck in chronological order, the largest (with the highest churn rate), or ideally the one that best meets both criteria.

Key takeaway: As a Behavioral Science expert, it is important that you help your clients understand the importance of knowing people in-depth to tackle (and solve) the right problem before designing one or more final solutions that promote the expected behavior change.

If you want help in finding the real problem of your challenge and answering the correct questions before designing solutions, do not hesitate to contact me 😃

Si quieres ayuda para encontrar el problema real de tu reto y responder las preguntas correctas antes de diseñar soluciones, no dudes en contactarme 😃

You can read more articles or discover the Behavioral Insights on the blog.

Silvia Cottone

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